Ever get the feeling life is on a loop? Two grim stories dominated the weekend news, and both are so horribly familiar that one’s immediate response could almost border on the jaded. Firstly, across the Channel, English football’s flabbiest fans drank too much again, wrecked a corner of a foreign field again, and the team they purport to support are threatened with disqualification from a major tournament again. Secondly, across the pond, a crazed gunman slaughtered dozens of innocent people again; he seemingly carried out this atrocity because he disagrees with the sexual choices of those he targeted, though his apparent hardline Islamic beliefs mean that this massacre can be added to the ‘Muslim problem’ again, despite the fact that the Orlando incident was the 173rd mass shooting in America this year, most of which were bereft of an Islam element. So, yes, we have been here before.
A website called MassShootingTracker.org. states that the killing of four or more people by a gun in the US (including the assassin himself – and they are almost uniformly male) counts as a mass shooting; the fact that this qualification has been achieved 173 times already in a year that is only at its halfway point suggests America has something of a gun crime problem, though this has been evident for several decades. The Islamic angle attached to Saturday’s slaughter may have presented Donald Trump with gift-wrapped verbal ammunition, yet his call for President Obama to resign over his failure to tackle ‘the Muslim problem’ has an inherent irony he is clearly too dumb to appreciate.
For all his faults, Obama has at least tried to do something about America’s gun laws, yet every attempt has been blocked by the NRA lobbyists in the Republican-dominated Congress. For many Americans – including the majority of Trump supporters – the right to bear arms is as obsessive an issue as membership of the European Union is to some Brits. It is therefore convenient for them that the man responsible for the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 apparently took 50 innocent lives in the name of Allah. Clearly, he did it because he was a Muslim, not because he resides in a country where private gun ownership actually outnumbers the adult population, a country where it’s harder to buy a decent cup of tea than a firearm.
‘I’ve got people who we know have been on Isil websites living here in the United States,’ said Obama last week (before the Orlando incident), ‘but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit these people from buying a gun.’ Yet, every time the President attempts to curb the easy availability of weapons in the US, Republican NRA cheerleaders start carping on about the sanctity of the Second Amendment. There are, of course, many other countries where firearms can also be purchased with relative ease, yet none in the developed world can boast the body-count of the US. It would seem the right to bear arms simply facilitates a deeper craving in the American psyche. After all, for a country that was lauded as a break with Old World bloodshed and praised as a fresh start for civilisation when it finally achieved recognition as an independent nation in the 1780s, America has enjoyed a mere 21 years of peace since the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Founding Fathers.
There is undoubtedly a pattern where the perpetrators of mass shootings in the US are concerned. Most tend to be outsiders of some sort, rejected by their peers and harbouring a grudge over their inability to interact with or assimilate into a peer group. At one time, they would have retreated into a parallel universe manufactured by literature or cinema and would have honed in on one particular individual as symbolic of all they held responsible for their social isolation, whether John Lennon or Ronald Reagan; today, the internet is the comfort zone and the single assassination appears to have fallen out of favour.
In fact, Reagan was the last US President to be targeted by a gunman; these days, it is the mass rather than the individual that provides the bloody culmination of gradual withdrawal from society. One could argue this possibly reflects the democratisation of fame, that the rise of reality television, social media and citizen journalism have all served to elevate the ordinary Joe above the genuine achiever and therefore render him a more relevant target. Add the inbred American eye-for-an-eye mentality and it’s a combustible mix.
The alienation of the outsider does not necessarily equate with a desire to wipe out innocent lives by pulling a trigger, of course; many simply accept they will never belong and don’t automatically attribute responsibility for this to their peers or a particular social, sexual, racial or religious demographic. But when those that do have access to guns, it’s a disaster waiting to happen – though one doesn’t have to wait long in America. 173 and counting.
© The Editor